Buenos Aires Times

What we learned this week: Macri on tour, new US envoy, Zaffaroni

Key stories from the last seven days.

Monday 29 January, 2018
President Mauricio Macri.
President Mauricio Macri. Foto:CEDOC.

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PRESIDENT LAYS ON THE CHARM ON FOREIGN TOUR

President Mauricio Macri spent last week abroad, starting in Russia before moving west to the World Economic Forum in Davos (Switzerland) and France. At his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday,  Macri warmly thanked his host for the continuing Russian aid in the search for the submarine ARA San Juan (missing since mid-November) but questioned his alliance with Venezuela – after the meeting Macri spoke of relaunching the relationship with a doubled bilateral trade volume. His first day at the Davos forum (Treasury Ministry Nicolás Dujovne arrived before him, attending the full week and meeting up with both his North American colleagues among others) featured various important meetings such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands – in the latter’s company Macri announced that Argentina’s Invap had won an international tender to construct a US$400-million nuclear reactor in Holland. After briefly making viral waves online with decla ration that an EUMercosur trade deal was perfect for Argentines as they all feel European (which didn’t go well with some indigenous groups), he charmed the news agencies and proclaimed Argentina’s return to the world.

“No other country has bigger potential than Argentina” when it comes to “solar power, hydrocarbon reserves and nonconventional energy,” Macri told attendees of the Forum’s plenary, where he spoke as president of the G20. He also found time to meet with representatives from Coca-Cola, Maersk, Statoil, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, Malala Yousafzai and FIFA chief Gianni Infantino. Macri’s final destination on his three-nation trip was France, where he held bilateral talks with President Emannuel Macron and met with French business leaders. The trip didn’t come without cost, however. A number of local outlets carried stories about the cost of the president’s transport.

Pending purchase of a new presidential aircraft (see last week’s story), a private jet was rented for this trip – at an hourly cost of US$16,000.

ENGLISH TRAVELLER DIES

A24-year-old English tourist was found dead 20 kilometres north of Ushuaia Wednesday. The body of lone traveller David Minn was discovered by a group trekkers. It is believed the young man suffered an accidental fall while en route to the Ojo del Albino glacier.

BIG NUCLEAR DEAL WITH HOLLAND

Nuclear deal with Holland Argentina has won a tender to construct a nuclear reactor for medical purposes in the Netherlands, President Mauricio Macri announced on Wednesday. Bariloche’s Invap overcame French and South Korean competition to clinch the US$400-million contract to rebuild a reactor at Petten (Noordholland) dating back almost to the World War II. By the time the plant comes on stream in 2025, it is expected to supply 30 percent of the world’s radioisotopes (important against cancer) and 80 percent of Dutch needs.

Invap were already tipped to win the original tender in 2008 (when Argentine- born Máxima was still Crown Princess, not Queen) but the project was discontinued in the wake of the 2008-9 global financial meltdown and revived in 2015. The Río Negro nuclear research specialists (with a highly skilled workforce of 1,400) have been succssfully operating a similar reactor at Lucas Heights (near Sydney) in Australia since 2000.

NEW US ENVOY

The new Argentine ambassador to the United States, Fernando Oris de Roa, presented his credentials to US President Donald Trump in Washington on Wednesday, describing his future mission as doing all in his power to advance President Mauricio Macri’s chief priorities of ending poverty by creating jobs and of reducing the fiscal deficit. Prohibitively increased US tariffs on Argentine biofuels will be the main obstacle for the diplomat’s ambitious commercial agenda.

CENTRAL BANK LOWERS RATES

On Tuesday the Central Bank lowered interest rates by 0.75 percent for the second time this month, thus delivering a message of laxer monetary policy which sent the dollar heading closer to the 20-peso mark. For the first time in two years the Central Bank has now interrupted a policy of having interest rates and inflation moving in the same direction since prices have accelerated in the last couple of months after major utility billing hikes. But Central Bank Governor Federico Sturzenegger defended the move, arguing that there was enough overshooting in current rate levels to accommodate the reduction. The lower rates are generally seen as making the new 2018 inflation guideline of 15 percent (from only a month ago) even less sustainable with the latest forecasts hovering around 19 percent.

ZAFFARONI V THE GOVERNMENT

Comments by former Supreme Court justice Eugenio Zaffaroni (currently a judge on the Inter-American Court for Human Rights) expressing wishes for as rapid an exit as possible for the Mauricio Macri administration were criticised by the government, from President Macri himself (in Moscow at the time) downwards, as well as beyond. Macri said that the changes being undertaken by his government that are so repugnant to Zaffaroni were the will of the people as expressed in democratic elections. Justice Minister Germán Garavano called for Zaffaroni’s resignation while Security Minister Patricia Bullrich directly accused the ex-justice of “coup-mongering. ” Even among Zaffaroni’s own human rights fraternity there were critics – José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch, said that Zaffaroni had dented the credibility of his regional court with his statements desiring the premature end of a democratic mandate. The Buenos Aires City Bar Association said that it would ask the Organisation of American States (OAS) to remove the outspoken judge.

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